With the massive success of Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of It, the newly-released Gerald’s Game and the upcoming adaptation of 1922 hitting Netflix later this month, it is time to give some love to another Stephen King film that often goes overlooked.
Originally broadcast in 1999 and directed by Craig R. Baxley, Storm of the Century came at the end of a period marked by King’s novels and stories being adapted for television miniseries. It, The Tommyknockers and The Langoliers, among others, hit the airwaves over the course of a decade for multi-night television events. Storm of the Century stands apart from its contemporaries in that it was not based on a prior work. King wrote this story as a teleplay, intending it to be a miniseries from the get-go.
The story follows the inhabitants of Little Tall Island, Maine. As they are bracing for the arrival of a powerful blizzard, a stranger wanders into their midst and brutally murders a long-time resident. The stranger, who identifies himself as Andre Linoge (Colm Feore) is taken into custody by the town constable, Mike Anderson (Tim Daly). While he quietly sits in his holding cell and the storm begins raging through the town, more mysterious deaths begin to occur. Suicides, murders – the quiet town beings to become undone as the stranger sits on his bunk, unnervingly quiet, yet clearly connected to whatever is going on. The few times he does speak, Linoge unleashes the darkest secrets of the townspeople. Crimes committed in secrecy, intimate details of their lives and truths that they would have taken to their graves, had they not been released by this mysterious stranger.
In time, the storm worsens and Linoge’s purpose in their town becomes clear. After days of toying with them, he finally makes his demand, asking the most difficult, unspeakable thing of all from the townspeople. As he has stated many times throughout the storm, “Give me what I want, and I’ll go away.” The residents of Little Tall Island must make the most difficult choice of their lives as they weigh whether they can sell their souls to save their town.
The film is delightfully creepy and holds up really well. The fact that it was created for broadcast TV doesn’t do anything to inhibit the horror of the story, and there are some genuinely shocking moments. Additionally, the suspense build is fantastic. Everyone knows that something is up with Linoge from the first moment he arrives onscreen. This is not your average crazy drifter. Though he spends the majority of the film locked in a holding cell, it is clear that he has a hold over the town and is responsible for the many ghastly moments that go on over the course of the blizzard. Knowing that iron bars really aren’t protecting anyone and seeing him pull the town apart is a great exercise in horror and suspense. The story really gets the opportunity to stretch and build an atmosphere of dread before Linoge finally reveals the true nature of his game.
The performances are solid, particularly from Feore and Daly. They are well-matched adversaries fighting for the very soul of this community. Though Anderson finds himself in a battle that his ill-prepared for, he makes a good match for Linoge as he tries to protect the people and the place that he calls home. He doesn’t understand his adversary, but he also refuses to back down and let Linoge have his way.
Part of what makes Storm of the Century work is its use of the small town. An often-seen element in King’s work, it is particularly effective here, as the story itself revolves around the nature of a close-knit community – its relationships, its connections, and its secrets.
Near the end of the film, when the residents are debating whether or not to give in to Linoge’s demands, they wander among themselves why they were chosen. Of all the people in all the communities around the world, why were they singled out? They come to realize that their lives on the island have prepared them for just such an event. “Because he knows we can keep a secret,” they say. Linoge has banked (correctly) on the fact that they will never utter a word to the outer world about his presence and their dealings during the storm. In a town where everyone knows everyone else, you have to work twice as hard to keep anything a secret, and the people of Little Tall Island have mastered this skill. They will go on about their business and never mention the week’s events above a whisper to one another.
It is precisely this secret keeping that makes them such an ideal community for Linoge to have singled out in the first place. In a place where everyone knows each other, where everyone’s lives are so intertwined and the community itself is at the heart of every resident’s existence, the more effective Linoge’s dark presence will be. In a larger city, his brand of influence would go unnoticed. But in a small town where neighbors have known one another their entire lives and are actually connected to each other, Linoge’s powers are devastating. Every dark truth he brings to light is one of a thousand tiny cuts. He must first rip the town apart before he deals the killing blow.z
Storm of the Century often gets overlooked when we are talking about Stephen King, but it really is a solid entry. Suspenseful, well crafted and acted, it’s the perfect film to watch on a rainy afternoon and wonder just how well the neighbors next door know you and what secrets might be hiding behind closed doors.